UAW chief gets prime-time slot as Obama touts auto recovery

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King is expected to speak in a prime-time slot on Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention.

UAW officials have been told by convention organizers that King will speak in the 9 o'clock hour on Wednesday, with the caveat that that could still change, according to King. In an interview with The Hill, King said that in his speech, he will address the auto recovery, which has become a campaign flashpoint as President Obama has sought to emphasize his role in saving the industry.

King said the president saved the country from another depression by securing the federal government’s bailout for auto companies that were struggling after the 2008 economic downturn.

“Republicans wanted him to do nothing ... at that point, that would have been politically safe. But he said no and that this was too important for our communities,” King said. “He's a strong leader and the American people need to know that.”

A Democratic official confirmed that King is scheduled to speak during prime time on Wednesday.

King’s slot will have him speak closer to when major networks start their live convention coverage at 10 p.m. Other union leaders are speaking at the convention, though not as prominently as the UAW chief.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is scheduled to speak in the 6 o'clock hour on Tuesday. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is expected to speak at the same time on Wednesday, according to a statement from the labor federation.

Obama’s reelection campaign has emphasized the president’s role in supporting auto companies, and the union leader for autoworkers can speak to Obama’s backing. King said the auto industry is “a great example of what President Obama has done for the economy.”

“What we achieved with the auto industry can be the template for what can be achieved in manufacturing and the rest of the economy,” King said. “He has got a model that works.”

While labor’s enthusiasm for Charlotte as the Democrats’ convention city has been lacking, due to North Carolina’s status as a right-to-work state, UAW has upped its presence compared to Denver four years ago. The union has 89 delegates participating in the convention, more than double what UAW had at the 2008 convention, according to King.

“He had our back. He fought for us. We have his back and we are going to fight for him,” King said.

As some unions have been frustrated by the Obama administration, UAW has been one of the most vocal supporters within labor for the president. They have defended the president from attacks from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the auto bailout, supported the White House on its fuel economy standards and backed the South Korea free-trade deal, which was opposed by several unions.

UAW will be a potent political force for Obama, too. The union is based in Detroit and its membership is spread throughout the country, especially swing states in the Midwest.

King said he thinks that the president will win Michigan come November.

“I feel really good about Michigan. The polls I have seen show he has a good lead there,” King said. “But you don't take anything for granted, so we are going to work very hard to make sure he wins Michigan ... I think he will [win] in Michigan, and I think that will transfer to Ohio and throughout the industrial Midwest.”